I have a Tonga Toast craving....

A while back, I wrote about my opinions on the Disney Dining Plan, and how it can actually save you some money if you are traveling with children.  When I heard on WDW Today about the new changes to the plan, however, I wanted to revisit the subject, because it’s possible things might have changed. 

I’m looking at a 4 day trip with my wife, my two kids and myself, and comparing the cost of the Dining Plan to the cost of using Tables in Wonderland.  Now, I understand that not all of you out there have Annual Passes and can use Tables in Wonderland, but it’s something to consider.  For the price of what you’re paying for tickets and the Dining Plan, you might save money buying one annual pass and Tables in Wonderland. 

Looking at the trip I want to take, I’d like to take the kids to eat at some of our favorite spots.  For this trip, I’m thinking Biergarten, Crystal Palace, Boma and Kona Café for breakfast.  The Dining Plan works out well for us, because we tend to eat one table service meal per day, just to give the kids a little time to sit down and relax.  

I deliberately picked those restaurants because they’re not as expensive, and what I’d likely pick if I were not on the Dining Plan.  So…whip out your T-81 graphing calculators and let’s do some math. 

First, the Tables in Wonderland costs are calculated by taking the 20% discount that you get from the card and then adding the 18% gratuity that is automatically added to the bill.  One thing that strikes me when doing this is how high the food prices are, but I digress.  For Tables in Wonderland, it comes out as follows, for 2 kids, 2 adults: 

 The grand total comes out to $371.05, and that’s just for four meals!  This is the reason why people think of how expensive a Disney vacation can be.  That doesn’t include the breakfast and lunch for three of those days, and lunch and dinner for the day we go to Kona.

Expensive? Sure. Worth it? Sometimes.

 Under the new Disney Dining Plan, the cost has increased to $45.99 for adults, and $11.99 for kids in the non-peak season, and $47.99 and $12.99 during peak season.  The trip I’m taking is during peak season, so we’re talking about a total of $121.96 per day.  That comes out to $487.84 for the four days.  But remember, the Disney Dining Plan doesn’t include tip, so factoring in the tips for those four meals, you get $562.02.  Wow!  For meals for four people, that’s a lot. 

 That leaves a difference of about $192 between the table service meals on Tables in Wonderland and the Disney Dining Plan.  Could we eat our other meals (3 breakfast, 4 lunch and 1 dinner) for that $192?  That’s 8 meals, meaning we’d have only $14 to feed 4 people at each meal.  Not likely, huh?

So, again, it turns out that if you have kids, the Disney Dining Plan is probably still a better value than paying out of pocket, even with Tables in Wonderland.  As always, the standard disclaimers apply – do your own math (I created a spreadsheet) and make sure you can book your restaurants before booking the Dining Plan. 

What about you?  Will you change plans due to the increase in Dining Plan prices?  Or does seeing these prices make you want to eat off property more?


  1. You have one error in your math -the DDP only provides one table service meal and one counter service meal per day. So the question is: can $192 buy me 4 counter service meals and 4 snacks for 2 adults and 2 children?

  2. So, if you are just looking at the food costs I understand the math. However, if you are just looking at this single trip (which I realize you are not, but many readers will be)you would need to calculate the $75 cost of the TIW card.

      • Exactly. Many vocal proponents of TiW are already passholders. For the occasional visitor to the World who doesn’t maintain an AP from year to year, that’s another large expenditure that needs to be accounted into the cost. And with the reduction in the frequency and size of AP room discounts, the price of a single AP has become harder to “absorb” through discounts.

        (For the record, I’m a passholder, a DVC member, and a fan of TiW.)

  3. Good point…but I usually manage to use the counter service meals and snacks combined for lunch/breakfast. Still, it’s a very valid point.

    Even then, though, you’re looking at a combined cost of $192 for all that you mentioned, and my guess is it would be about the same. I usually spend $40 per counter service meal, so that comes out to $160, and the 4 snacks gives me $8 each. So that’s not too bad.

    Shows you that I need a new calculator, right?

  4. Good article and it’s accurate. It’s very similar to the arguments people make for/against free dining as opposed to room only discounts. Free dining matters for families of 3 or 4. Even more so as kids reach the age of 10 and count as adult prices. It’s all relative, but you CAN get value out of the DDP depending on how you spend it.

  5. Great analysis. There are so many variables it’s impossible to be “right” or “wrong” (for instance, two of your meals were buffets with fixed prices).

    The approach I used to figure out if DDP worked for our family was similar to yours. Using prices and menus online, I went through each meal and picked the items we would probably order if we were paying out of pocket, then compared that to the cost of the DDP. What I found is that the two figures were almost the same. But with the prepaid DDP, the vacation has a more all-inclusive feel and I don’t have to worry about whether the $32.99 strip steak is overpriced.

    When my 7-year-old turns 10 – different ballgame.

  6. To my family one of the biggest benefits of the DDP is the ability to order anything off the menu without worrying about price. I know myself well and I know that without the DDP I would order items based on price rather than what I want. I’m a cheapskate at heart.

  7. It really depends on your family’s dining habits. If you enjoy buffets, then the plan is a value conscious idea. Consider, though, if you dined at an actual table service restaurant and chose to have a salad, entree, and glass of wine for dinner. The regular dining plan would not include the salad or glass of wine. One of our favorite meals is the Frito Misto (appetizer for two) and a small pizza with the family style side salad at Via Napoli. I have no idea how that would work out on the regular dining plan. So, you have to do your own homework and do what makes sense for you. Everyone is different. There is no right or wrong answer to the “Will the dining plan save me money?” question.

  8. I have two trips coming up, one this Oct for 4 nights for just my husband and I and then another in Jan ’12 for another 4 nights which will include our 4 children. We usually always go to the DDP as our choice and budget for food. Now the Oct trip we’ll be doing the reg plan since we plan on dining TS each night/day but I figured out the cost for our family trip based on ’11 pricing for just the QS plan and it would be $665.76 (that’s 4 at Adult rate and 2 on child rate)It just really seemed like to much…so to answer the question is the new pricing changing our plans? YES! I worked out an average cost of 5 QS meals for 5-6 of us, ordering no desserts and 3 drinks plus 4 different snack stops…and planning on eating lunch in our DVC villa a few times (plus all our breakfasts) the in park food cost (for us I’m averaging $330) and grocery delievery we’ll still come out less than DDP this time.

  9. I recently did the math for our 8-night December 2011 trip. I hate how much the Disney Dining Plan’s price has increased, while the value has plummeted. However, with 1 adult and 2 children in my group, the DDP looks to be 12% less expensive than paying out-of-pocket. Tables in Wonderland offers a very slight savings over the DDP.

    In our case, however, we’ve decided to rent DVC points rather than staying at a Value resort, so the AP+TIW expense wouldn’t be worth it in our case. It’s the waaaaay over-priced DDP for us… just barely.

  10. I have to point out that 3 out of your 4 meals were at buffets. Dining plan will probably come out ahead in that case. However, if you are ordering from a menu, TIW almost ALWAYS saves you $$ over the Dining plan, and if the adults in your party have wine, beer or a coctail, the TIW card helps you even more. We made a spread sheet and chose actual1 menu items from 8 restaurants doing a side by side comparison and TIW saved on average $10.25 per adult per day over the dining plan. For our upcoming trip with 6 adults for 10 days that’s a savings of $615!!!

  11. I just used the dining plan for the first time in February. I see pros and cons to it. Pros – it was free for us and we probably ate at places we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have it due to budget reasons. The cons were that we went during free dining, so even though the parks were sooo slow (1’s, 2’s, 3’s), restaurants were packed, I assume because of the free dining. We had made our reservations prior but trying to be spontaneous or changing meal plans was impossible. We also would have preferred a better system. We used CS for lunch almost always. We didn’t want dessert each time and would have prefer having an extra snack credit for later (I’m so over that chocolate dessert cake). We also would have preferred have the choice of an appetizer versus dessert for TS. With this said, I would use the plan again but NOT during free dining, I rather pay for it and hope it wouldn’t be as chaotic trying to make TS. I think it’s a good value, but needs some restructuring.

  12. Having just returned from our second Free Dining trip – I agree with you. The DDP is worth it for MOST people with kids (paying the child’s price). Just one character meal or buffet is double the daily cost of the kids DDP. For other sitdowns, the value is less obvious, but I think it would still be hard for a family with kids not to break even at the least or come out somewhat ahead. My only gripe with DDP is the fact that it doesn’t include appetizers. I would much rather have appetizers included and pay for a dessert here and there. We are appetizer people when we go out.

  13. We arent dessert people. I read somewhere the dessert could be exchanged for a drink, in which case we could get one to go when finished with our meal. Do you if this is true?

  14. I haven’t heard of that, but I don’t think it’s true. I tried to sub an appetizer for desert once, and was told there were no substitutions. I could be wrong though, so it never hurts to ask.

  15. We are evaluating this question for our fall trip.
    At this point, with two under 9, the ddp makes sense, once we are in the 3 adult classification, we may go back to cash/room charge.
    The deciding factor for us at this point is convienence. I like that I am not always reaching in to my pocket for 1 or 2 twenties at the CS locations too.

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